Monday, September 17, 2007

Vietnam's nuclear research reactor

DALAT, Vietnam (CNN) -- Dalat Nuclear Research Institute stands on a mountaintop in Vietnam's southern highlands. The nuclear reactor is not what most Vietnamese think of when they think of Dalat. The town, nestled in pine woods, is Vietnam's favorite honeymoon spot.

The institute is not a romantic place. Located in a cylindrical, concrete building, it contains a 500-kilowatt, pool-type reactor that had only recently been loaded with Soviet WWR-M2 fuel assemblies.

Built in 1963 with U.S. help, it originally contained highly enriched uranium from the United States.

In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, the reactor was closed, then reconstructed by the Soviet Union. In 1983, it reopened, this time using Soviet highly enriched uranium -- a Cold War marriage made in heaven.

The institute created medical isotopes and carried out research, but few people if any, in those days thought about the possibility that terrorists might take an interest in the uranium.

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